Thursday, January 5, 2017

“Sweaty January”—How Failed New Year’s Resolutions Help to Support Gyms

Within the past couple of days you have likely heard folks mention a common new year’s resolution: “getting back in shape” or “adopting a healthier lifestyle.” Doing so often involves joining a gym and many gyms experience a surge in January. Approximately 1 of 8 new gym memberships is purchased in January, and gyms often experience a 30 to 50 percent increase in gym attendance during January.

Excitement surrounding these resolutions quickly fades, and with it, so does gym attendance.  “Sweaty January” describes the unique economic model that gyms adhere to: subsidizing the true cost of membership by collecting fees from well-intentioned customers that won’t actually show up. 

The driving force behind the economic model of gyms has everything to do with rent. Gym members require a lot of space. Take my gym, for instance. When I toured the facility, one of the things I most appreciated was how many designated spaces there are. There is a spin studio, a boxing studio, a pilates studio, several aerobic studios, several yoga studios, a cardio machine area, a weight training area, an indoor track, open spaces that can be used for activities such as polymetrics training or stretching, basketball courts, racquetball courts, a swimming pool, hot tubs, a spa, a cafe, a bar, a business center, staff offices, private consultation offices, and general lounging areas.

Having several designated exercise areas is not enough—each area must actually be big enough to support the activity being performed. For example, I have to have enough space to participate in my hip hop dance class without bumping into anyone. In addition to the actual workout spaces, gyms must have locker rooms that can sufficiently support members.  There need to be enough lockers and enough changing room space, mirror and sink space, showers, and the like.

Gyms also must be conveniently located. Even if gym members are not likely to actually go to the gym on a frequent basis, if a gym is located too far away from a person’s home or work, that person is less likely to join. 

According to Men's Journal, based on the high cost of rent, gyms need about 10 times as many members as the facility can actually handle. Gyms rely on getting people to pay for a membership that will rarely, if ever, be used. In a 2014 Planet Money podcast, Planet Money visited a Planet Fitness gym. The gym had signed up about 6,000 members, despite its capacity of 300 people. The numbers are eye opening. Yet, year after year, failed resolutions from well- intentioned folks who won’t actually work out help to not only produce such numbers, but to keep the gym industry alive. 

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